This post was originally published on May 29, 2014.
We all know that there are drug references a’plenty in many a hip hop song. But as luck would have it, Project Know has made a series of mesmerizing charts categorizing thousands of rap songs that were released between the years 1988 and 2013. Then Nerve went and analyzed that data, pointing out that weed was mentioned a bit in the 80s, hit its height in the 90s, started to phase out in the ’00s and is gaining steam again.
Molly is the New Coke, Patron Over Cristal
As for coke, well it peaked in 2004 (when weed was at its lowest) but was mentioned more than any other drug between 1996 and 2009. Then, Project Know noticed, coke started to fade as none other than molly slid into prominence. As Nerve points out, mentions of molly have “exploded since then.”
And wherefore art thou, booze? Well, Cristal was big in the 90s but in 2003 Patron took center stage. Hennessy, meanwhile, has been big the whole time.
Shout Outs to the Pills
Pill popping has of course hit hip hop as it’s hit our culture, with references to Ativan, Hydrocodone, Lortab, Percs and of course Adderall in many songs. And then there’s codeine-promethazine syrup—aka sizzurp—which, Nerve points out, has reached a crescendo mostly due to the explosion of Southern rap.
So who wins the drug rap game? Helpfully, there are different charts for weed, coke, pharmaceutical drugs, codeine and MDMA. Lil B is a clear victor here, earning the top spots for coke, codeine and MDMA. Three 6 Mafia win the weed war and one of sobriety’s coolest advocates, Eminem, is our leading pill guy.
Because of my own personal obsession with Jay Z—who isn’t even mentioned in these charts, wtf—I’ve long since been fascinated by the way he weaves drug references into his hits. To me, Jigga is the personification of the American Dream—raised in the projects of Brooklyn and, if his songs are to be taken literally, rose to the top thanks largely to his mama’s love, chutzpah, drive and talent. No one could say that isn’t an inspiring message. So, in the ballad that many felt usurped Sinatra’s “New York New York” as the preeminent Manhattan song, when Jay raps about MDMA making you “feel like a champion” and “the city that never sleeps slip[ping]you an Ambien,” who’s going to argue that he’s preaching anything but the truth? He’s a guy, after all, who supported himself during his rise to the top by slinging dope but clearly didn’t get hooked himself so here we have an expert on drugs announcing that Ecstasy is the breakfast of champions and Ambien the dopest way to get a good night’s sleep.
Go Ahead and Crank It for the Kids
What impact drug and alcohol references in music have on teenagers is, of course, a topic of endless debate. As I’ve said before, I remember certain songs I heard as a teenager influencing my opinion about cocaine but that was mostly because I was incredibly fascinated by the idea of coke already. I didn’t become addicted to coke later, in other words, because of Grandmaster Flash but because of my genetic predisposition and the environment I was in. Parents who stress that hip hop’s going to turn their good kids bad are, I believe, missing the point. If you show your kids love, make them feel seen and heard and understood and talk to them about alcoholism if it’s in your genetic makeup, I can all but guarantee that Jay Z, Lil B and Three 6 Mafia ain’t gonna do a thing.